Evolving COVID-19 Protections in the Workplace: An Update

by Stephen Knight

Worksafe just submitted our latest comments on the state of California’s COVID-19 Emergency Temporary Standard (ETS). This round relates to Cal/OSHA’s proposed “Second Re-adoption” of the ETS, which as an emergency rule is subject to specific emergency processes.

The first re-adoption was in June 2021. Unfortunately that timing overlapped with a low point of COVID concern among too many people in California, as well as with the Governor’s long-announced June 15 deadline for “reopening” the state. A number of appropriate and science-based recommendations from Cal/OSHA, such as requiring masks in indoor work environments without regard to vaccination status, were greeted with outrage by the business community and voted down by the OSH Standards Board. This decision was very widely and quickly seen as a mistake as the COVID Delta variant came on strongly in late summer, but it has not been undone. The vote was taken at a 10+ hour public meeting that was also attended by thousands of anti-public health protestors angrily asserting false and disturbing things, such as that face coverings are a health hazard.

Most Californians, at least, recognize the need for and efficacy of protective standards in the workplace. The proposal from Cal/OSHA we are now commenting on includes science-based recommendations that are in sync with the California Department of Public Health. Among other things, our limited comments ask the Standards Board to consider a broader definition of what constitutes a “case” in the workplace.

The ETS cannot be amended more than twice, and this version will be the last, expiring in April 2022.

Work is underway on a draft set of post-emergency COVID-related standards for the Standards Board to consider early next year, which would then be in place into 2024. It has less detailed requirements and the removal of some key protections. That includes no exclusion pay for workers, despite the continuing requirement on employers to exclude those who are symptomatic or positive for COVID. Most workers have little to no sick time and cannot afford to lose their income. Reporting of symptoms and of close contacts will be severely reduced when workers understand they or their coworkers will be put out of work unpaid for 10 days as a result.

Worksafe has a petition demanding that exclusion pay remain in the rules. Please sign the petition, and stay tuned.

We work to protect people from job-related hazards and empower us all to advocate for the right to a safe and healthy workplace.